If only our schools were more like a Wii

One of the most revelatory moments in PD this year started with this question:  Why do kids love video games more than their classes?

After a few minutes bemoaning the evils of the wired generation and some obvious answers about graphics and explosions, we really starting thinking from the perspective of our kids.

A.  When I am playing my video game I know always know where I am going and  I know exactly how well I am doing.  One glance in the top left corner tells me how many points I have and how many lives are left.  In class I always have to guess what’s on the teacher’s mind or wait until the test scores come back.

B. When I am playing my video game I can go as far as I want.  If I am skilled enough for the next level I can go there.  In class I have to wait for everyone to finish before we move onto a new topic.

C.  I control my destiny.  If I want to pause I pause.  If I want to start over I can do that.  If I don’t get it, the class keeps going.

Video games exemplify the power of feedback.  Grant Wiggins defines feedback as “non-judgmental information about how we did in light of some goal.”   The video game does not provide praise or reprimand; the game describes your performance (You missed the target. You reached the next level) tThen you have the opportunity to try again with the new knowledge.  The console delivers the feedback and grants you control of the next steps in your learning.

There were always a slew of confiscated Gameboys in my desk.  Perhaps, instead of purging the games from our school I should have spent more time figuring out how to make our school more like them.  My next steps would be…

  • Track or get teachers to track the number of times kids receive real feedback on their performance and get the chance to practice again (in the same period) with the feedback.  Then push for growth.  How do we grow from x number of times kids getting feedback to y number of times?
  • Teach teachers to check for understanding frequently and actually use the information they collect to pause, rewind, or fast forward the lesson.  As a teacher I find myself with a small repertoire of dipsticking moves but not enough deliberate thought about what to do when the kids respond.
  • Explicitly teach kids about feedback, how to to use it, and why they should be hungrier for feedback than praise.
  • Build individual conferences and whole staff conversation around the questions:  Who is doing the thinking?  Where is the knowledge? Do the kids look to you for all their knowledge and feedback?  Do they know how to assess their performance without you or do they hang on your every word as the source of perceived wisdom?  Too often our classrooms are like a basketball team that looks at its coach in the waning seconds of a close game instead of the clock and the scoreboard.
  • Everything that kids love about video games would probably be appreciated by the adults in the building as well.  How do I as a leader provide feedback and control to my teachers?

What do you think? How do we create classes and schools that compete with Playstations and Wiis?  Please share your thoughts, arguments, and questions about feedback.

As an aside this is not an original idea.  Like most of my thoughts it was either stolen from Saphier (feedback is discussed at length in the assessment chapter of the Skillful Teacher) or picked up in some web article that I can no longer attribute (and to think how often I have benched kids for plagiarism).

Ruth Sernak from Research for Better Teaching shared a Grant Wiggins’s article about the power of academic feedback.  The idea of feedback being non-judgmental and different from praise or reprimand was the hardest to wrap our heads around.  You can find the article at http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/assess/wiggins.html

Dave Levin and Ryan Hill also did a phenomenal workshop at KSS about how to effectively deliver feedback to adults.

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but I just came across this quote from Doug Reeves in the Marshall Memo.  It fits beautifully. Kids have a similar experience when they play video games, an environment in which the feedback is “immediate, specific, and brutal,” says Reeves. “They won or else died at the end of each game. For them, the purpose of feedback is not to calculate an average or score a final exam, but to inform them about how they can improve on their next attempt to rule the universe.”

For some additional thinking about video games and their potential for education check out…

TED talks are a mixed bag-often cool, occasionally powerful, periodically gimmicky.  I am still trying to make sense of this talk about visual meaning.  Limbically I feel like this connects to the power of video games and has implications for how we teach concepts and ideas.


The extreme application of this idea: a school where the curriculum is build around video games.  Kids might get a kick out of reasing about this experiment.  http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14350149

The MacArthur Foundation’s site offers some interesting research and insight into digital education.   http://digitallearning.macfound.org.

MacArthur Foundation partnered with Edutopia on this project.   Edutopia occasionally offers some exciting thinking about education in the digital era; be forwarned though it is often written from a fluffy “if only we let all the kids sit around the circle and blog about singing cumbayah, schools would be great” perspective.

A conversation between Will Wright (creator of the SIMS) E.O. Wilson (an amazing biologist and environmentalist) talk about the ways kids learn and how video games might actually be a more natural way for kids to learn.  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112203095


One Response to “If only our schools were more like a Wii”

  1. Napleton Says:

    I am so thrilled to be able to sit here at my desk in SF and read thought-provoking, Caleb questions about instruction and teaching. Until we can one day work together again, this will tide me over in weekly chunks. Now if only I got to hear the morning political commentary (although since W left office I’m guessing it’s tamed somewhat… or, in light of recent town hall debacles, maybe not) Much love…

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